By Ayathuray Rajasingam –
A brief history of Taiwan will demonstrate the reason for Taiwan to be a separate entity from the mainland China. As a result of the surrender of Japan at the end of the Second World war, the island of Taiwan was placed under the governance of the Republic of China (ROC) on 25th October 1945. When the civil war erupted with the Chinese Communist Party and the Republic of China, the ROC located to Taiwan in 1949. Since then the ROC continued exercise effective jurisdiction over Taiwan and other islands outside Taiwan. Dongsha Islands is also administered by Taiwan, but claimed by China, which is located 310 kilometers south-east of Hongkong, thus leaving Taiwan and China each under the rule of different government.
Taiwan recognized themselves to be Taiwanese only and reject the designation of Chinese national. Taiwan emphasized its people are Taiwanese politically and legally like the people of Gibraltar and that they are not Chinese. The tiny peninsula of Gibraltar located in Spain, has been a British Overseas Territory since 1713. Accordingly, the USA took an assertive position on Taiwan which in turn has led to more tension in the South China Sea.
While USA and China were suggesting to co-operation between themselves, USA enacted the Taiwan Allies International Protection & Enhancement Initiative (Taipei) Act of 2019 into law. This law recognizes Taiwan as Independent. It encourages other countries and international organizations to strengthen their official and unofficial ties with Taiwan and promises to increase US ‘economic, security, and diplomatic engagement’ with Nations that do so. It also threatened to punish Nations that undermine Taiwan, but China considers such Taipei Act as a sabotage against it. At present, 15 States have recognized Taiwan as the Republic of China. In such a situation Taiwan called for enhanced co-operation with the USA that goes beyond weapon sales, to strengthen Taiwan’s Defence reform and Military modernization.
China has been claiming Taiwan as part of its territory since the Republic of China government was relocated to Taiwan in 1949. In real terms, People’s Republic of China ruled mainland China only and has no control over Taiwan. China’s claim over Taiwan is meaningless as Taiwan is sovereign by the International Law definition because it possesses all the requirements of a Statehood such as citizenship, territorial jurisdiction, government and sovereignty. It is an ultimate authority independent of other authorities in the world though there was no official recognition for Taiwan. But the Taiwan Allies International Protection & Enhancement Initiative (Taipei) Act of 2019 sends the message of indirect recognition. Having known that Chinese investments were aimed at controlling territories and governments with the debt-trap policy, Sri Lanka supported China’s ‘One China’ policy and asserted that the Government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal government representing the whole of China and that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China. As a result, Sri Lanka supported China many times on human rights motions brought against China to prove its loyalty to China. On the other hand, Sri Lanka is in a dilemma to oppose the Taiwan Allies International Protection & Enhancement Initiative (Taipei) Act.
Since President Tsai-Ing-wen was elected President in 2016 China has intensified its military efforts to threaten Taiwan. The recent call of President Xi-Jinping to Chinese Marines to ‘prepare for war’ as China continues to ramp up military posturing in the Taiwan Strait. He told that Marines should shoulder the important duty of safeguarding China’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, maritime interests and overseas interests’ – an undisguised reference to Taiwan and the South China Sea. His emphasis on ‘regions of significant overseas interests’ and his claim ‘that the increasing strategic pressure from foreign hostile forces’ indirectly pointed out to USA, Japan, Philippines, Indonesia, India, UK and Australia.
China also issued a statement that ‘We sternly warn related parties that any statement and act that sabotages the ‘One China’ principle and stir up troubles in the Taiwan Straits, does not fit the fundamental interests of China and the US, and damages the well-being of compatriots on both sides of the Taiwan Straits, as it brings a real threat to peace and stability in the region which is very dangerous.’
But there is the law of the seas in International Law which the US has reminded China which had failed to take into consideration. The ship’s transit through the Taiwan Straits demonstrates the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. The US Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere International Law allows. The destroyer USS Barry passed through Taiwan Strait in what the US Pacific Fleet said was a ‘routine’ transit in accordance with International Law.
Though a rapid development of China’s military has been accompanied by ‘targeted’ military action against Taiwan, Taiwan soon engaged in military modernizing programme aimed at making its armed forces more nimble, the result of such modernized military saw that when several People’s Liberation Army Air Force planes including Chinese Sukhoi-30 fighter jets and Shaanxi Y-8 transport aircraft violated Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), Taiwan responded and drove the Chinese warplane back. Finally, on 15th October 2020 Taiwanese F-16 fighter jets outmaneuvered Chinese Sukhoi-30 fighter jet over the Taiwan Strait and drove it out of Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone. Such incidents demonstrate that there is a threat from China but that it will be difficult to attack Taiwan.
Taiwan has accused that China has engaged in provocative actions by infringing Taiwan’s air-defence identification zone. Taiwan urged China ‘to return to civilized international standards’ when China openly rejected a maritime boundary in the Taiwan Strait (the so-called median line) that had largely been respected. China’s argument was that there cannot be such line because Taiwan is an inseparable part of China. But President Tsai-Ing-wen rejected China’s claim, as Taiwan is a separate independent territory.
The Chinese Communist Party has vowed to take control of Taiwan by force if necessary, as part of its ‘One China’ principle. The US along with its Regional Military deployments provides weapons to Taiwan to help protect against possible future invasion. China has criticized the US and Taiwan for a series of planned weapon sales, which US says are intended to fortify Taiwan’s defence. President Xi-Jinping told his military leaders that Chinese marines must focus their minds and energy on preparing for war, while maintaining a high level of readiness.
The Chinese President’s rallying cry comes at a time when the Chinese Navy continues to carry out live drills in the East China Sea, seemingly rehearsing for a potential invasion of Taiwan. Since September China has flown its military aircraft through Taiwan’s ADIZ with increasing frequency. But Taiwan will be encouraged with a number of planned armed sales to Taiwan by the USA.
Taiwan will receive weapons including a truck mounted Rocket Launcher, Air-to-Ground missiles, F-16 fighter jet data sensors, drones and a Coastal Defence Missile System. Taiwan’s President Tsai-Ing-wen after being re-elected for a second term in January took a soft appeasing tone in her speech to mark Taiwan’s National Day, to which China said President Tsai-Ing-wen was attempting to fool the world and declared the sharp rising of the risk of war. The Chinese Communist Party claims ownership of Taiwan under its ‘One China’ policy and vowed to take control of Taiwan by force, if necessary, if diplomatic means fail. The USA has supported Taiwan’s independence through the Taiwan Allies International Protection & Enhancement Initiative (Taipei) Act of 2019, to the annoyance of China.
Though Taiwan faces diplomatic isolation, recent actions of QUAD countries (USA, India, Japan & Australia) have provided encouragement to Taiwan. The aggressive behaviour of China compelled that the QUAD countries must strengthen and support Taiwan. QUAD countries will support Taiwan for three reasons. Since Taiwan is located off the coast of China, the core area of the Chinese economy, and is a strategic location for deterring Chinese aggression. If Taiwan is collaborating with the USA & Japan to exert military pressure on China’s coastal area, then China cannot focus its defence budget and military forces on the India-China border area. Simultaneously, the India-Taipei Association which was established in 1995, is the representative of India in Taiwan and functioning as a de facto Embassy in the absence of diplomatic relations, is another problem for China. Moreover, as the location of Taiwan is between East China Sea & the South China Sea, it is difficult for China to concentrate its naval forces without going through the sea near Taiwan. Second, Taiwan is an important source of information on China. When the Covid-19 pandemic began, Taiwan proved the worth of its knowledge of China, identifying what was happening there and warned the possibility of the pandemic to the WHO in 2019. Simultaneously Taiwan addressed the coronavirus crisis and was successful. The same holds true for the military and economic situation. Taiwan can be a good source of information about China to QUAD countries. Finally, cooperation with Taiwan can be an effective diplomatic card for QUAD countries to wield in response China’s provocations. Moreover, as Taiwan is democratic, it could be a model of democracy for Chinese speakers.
Though the border tension between India and China together with the encirclement of China on its eastern side by US, Japan, Philippines, Indonesia, Australia and UK with fully equipped war ships made difficult to invade Taiwan, it cannot be ruled out that China might be tempted to take advantage of a possibly chaotic result of the hotly contested US Presidential election to make good on a long-standing vow to re-unite Taiwan with the mainland, by force, if necessary. But Taiwan is not Tibet to be invaded easily. Nevertheless, China may launch an amphibious invasion of Taiwan or employ non-military means to subdue Taiwan. It will be difficult to conduct an amphibious landing in Taiwan due to the distance and lack of accessible beaches. The QUAD countries are also aware that the development of amphibious fighting vehicle, a test run on the Yangtze River went awry.
Rajapaksas are aware that China’s involvement in Sri Lanka, ranging from infrastructure development to strong diplomatic support for Sri Lanka, gradually eroded India’s commercial & cultural links with Sri Lanka. Rajapaksas knew that China would rally moral support from him over invading Taiwan. Though Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s administration reiterates ‘India First Foreign Policy’, there is suspicion in him playing a double standard in leaning towards China. The request from N.Modi on the implementation of the 13th Amendment has been an obstacle and marked time to do away with the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord.
At this juncture, the Tamils should bear in mind that when India was providing non-lethal weapons to Sri Lanka during the civil war, China supplied requisite arms and ammunition to defeat the LTTE without having any concern for the heavy casualties inflicted on the innocent Tamils. There is a moral obligation for the Tamils to support the actions of QUAD countries against China which is likely to extend a helping hand to Sri Lanka at Geneva. Moreover, the international community is concerned whether Gotabaya Rajapaksa follows ‘One country, One law’, like President Xi-Jinping’s ‘One China’ policy and create chaos in South Asia. It is of paramount interest that when the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo & US Secretary of State Mark Esper leave for India for Talks on Security in the Indo-Pacific, coupled with China’s upset over India’s trade talks with Taiwan, whether Gotabaya Rajapaksa can challenge the Taiwan Allies International Protection & Enhancement Initiative (Taipei) Act and bring Sri Lanka into disrepute in the eyes of the international community. Moreover, it is a million dollar question that if the countries in South-East Asia, Europe and other countries in QUAD follows the model of Taiwan Allies International Protection & Enhancement Initiative (Taipei) Act, whether Sri Lanka can speak louder than words against it in the same breath as it refused to sign the MCC compact.